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Political games on the backs of refugees

Hundreds of refugees that entered EU through Greece and reached other EU countries  after 15th of March are in danger of being returned. Their future and their personal rights could be compromised due to a decision of the Greek government, a good will gesture taken under European Commission’s pressure, to accept returns of refugees from other EU countries under provisions of the Dublin regulation. Until the end of this July Germany had submitted 392 requests for returning people to Greece, including families.  

The Dublin regulation III predicts that refugees should remain at the country they have entered into the EU as well as the place they have been initially fingerprinted. The regulation obliges them to submit their request for international protection at this country. Still Greece remains a transit country for most refugees, given its unable to satisfy some of their most basic needs. Additionally there is a constant lack of support and prospects for refugees that receive asylum in Greece, something explained in detail in a legal note issued recently by PRO ASYL/RSA. This is the reason many recognized refugees in Greece still attempt to transit to other member states of the EU and seek protection there.

No prospects

“Lack of a national plan for protection and integration of recognized refugees, including a weak Greek welfare state and the destructive consequences of austerity policies on the local population, results to inability of providing to the most basic social needs that ensure a dignified livelihood. We regularly encounter refugees with residence permits but are unable to secure basic means of subsistence and have no prospects of improving their situation” notes Marianna Tzeferakou, lawyer with Refugee Support Aegean. At the beginning of 2011 after the M.S.S decision of European Court of Human Rights against Belgium and Greece, Germany and other EU countries interrupted returns to Greece due to lack of basic reception conditions. As a result the Greek asylum service had received 4,415 return requests in total with the vast majority originating in Hungary. Finally only 3 persons were returned within the frame of Dublin regulation- two from Hungary and one from Switzerland.

December 2016 the European Commission opened Pandora’s Box by recommending the re-enaction of returns, under specific conditions, in the first reception country. This was another step towards an unfair migration policy, that entraps the majority of refugees at the south-eastern borders of the EU. In countries like Greece that face acute economic hardships. A statement of the Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Kotzias in a German newspaper last March had underlined that Greece doesn’t have the means or the capacity to accept people returned from Northern Europe. It’s not only Germany that has decided to return to Greece asylum seekers, although the majority of return requests is originating there. Similar requests are forthcoming from countries like Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, France, Austria, The Netherlands, The UK, Luxembourg and the CZ Republic.

Problematic reception conditions and access to asylum procedures.

This decisions in expected to have dramatic results for hundreds of refugees that have reached to Germany and other EU countries. Last May the German Federal Court stopped the return of a Syrian refugee that has been recognized in Greece. The reason for this decision was the lack of secured accommodation and access to means of subsistence for the returnee. The refugee had argued at the court that after his recognition in Greece did not receive any stat support and was forced to sleep rough.  Berlin as well as other EU capitals also turn a blind eye to the fact that access to asylum in Greece in most cases in facilitated through Skype calls. Establishing many new accommodation spaces has improved the situation regarding housing for refugees, but the reception conditions remain highly problematic. Especially given the withdrawal of NGOs from accommodation spaces and the undertaking of providing basic services from state institutions, for example medical care, there are grave concerns that the situation in those spaces will deteriorate. “Humanitarian consequences will be tragic given even today many asylum seekers don’t have access to accommodation in Greece, regardless of the creation of accommodation spaces. This means that refugees will increasingly be attracted by smuggler network and attempt to follow dangerous routes so it doesn’t become possible to identify Greece as their entry point”, says Yonous Muhammedi from Greek Refugee Forum.

Repressive policy also on family reunions

The resumption of returns to Greece should be interpreted in the context of strengthening the repressive immigration policy in the EU and the German election campaign ahead of the upcoming elections in September. Also, the massive decline in Dublin III transfers in the context of family reunification from Greece to Germany – that means in the opposite direction – from April 2017 onwards, is part of the inhumane policy of deterrence. Greece follows the German line as it seems to be a sign of gratitude, especially for supporting the relocation program. This attitude can also be considered as a retreat from reliance on European partners in times of economic crisis. But this political game take place in the backs of the refugees.

A “wave” of return requests
Dozens of refugees in EU countries  take currently the decisions that they have to return to Greece. Reportedly , Greece has accepted 4 returns from Germany on the basis of Dublin III. In all four cases, appeals have been lodged. Experts believe that it will be particularly difficult for Greece to be able to offer the necessary guarantees for the conditions in which those who are returned will be accommodated, and especially the families.

Returns of particularly vulnerable recognized refugees from other EU Member States confirm that a green light has been given to this inhumane tactic of forced return to countries that cannot provide them with protection and appropriate living conditions or even guarantee their survival. The Dublin III Regulation was declared dead by the European Commission itself. “The Dublin Regulation does not work anymore. However, it applies until it is replaced by a new system. For now it is a gray zone”, said European Commissioner for Immigration Dimitris Avramopoulos in an interview in magazine  Report Mainz of the German state TV ARD. His answer to a question about the conditions faced by those returning to Greece or Italy could be described as extremely cynical: “They should not complain. They just have to trust the local authorities, Greece, Italy or any other EU Member State. ”

Shocking testimonies
However, the refugees who have been returned until now experience the very difficult situation in Greece by first hand. Refugee Support in the Aegean has collected testimonies of particularly vulnerable refugees who have been returned to Greece this year, mainly from Scandinavian countries. Τhey  have decided to leave Greece even though they have been granted international protection status there or have residence permits. Earlier this year S., a seriously injured refugee from Iran, has been deported from Sweden after a month of detention and immediately ended up homeless in the streets of Athens. “They did not even want to hear what I wanted to say. I have never been able to explain to the Swedish authorities why I left Greece. I’m a victim of violence. In Sweden I was in psychological treatment. But they sent me back”, she says.

Also two women with a serious health problem were sent back to Greece in March together from Norway and Sweden. Both had with them their newborn children. They want to remain anonymous because they fear they will be stigmatized. They have experienced racism and mistreatment but also the indifference of state authorities and some NGOs for their difficult situation. “I received subsidiary protection status in Greece in 2015. I went to Sweden in 2016 because I was pregnant and could not get the necessary medicines here. They returned me back in March when my baby was two months old. I did not get any help in Greece. I didn’t even knew where I can get free diapers and milk. When I do not have milk I give the baby orange juice. I have also found diapers that I can wash and reuse. I work for 5 Euros a day. It’s hard work and money a little. I cannot live from that. But it’s better than nothing“, says one of the two women.

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